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DISPUTATION 17

ON REPENTANCE

RESPONDENT: HENRY NIELLUIS

As in succeeding Disputations are discussed Faith, and Justification through Faith, the order which has hitherto been observed requires us now to treat on Repentance without which we can neither have fellowship with Christ, nor be made partakers of his righteousness.

I. The matter on which we are at present treating, is usually enunciated in the three Latin words, resipiscentia, pænitentia, and conversio, repentance, penitence and conversion. The Greek word, Metanoia "change of mind after reflection," answers to the first of these, terms;

Metameleia, "regret on account of misdeeds," to the second; and Ewisrofh "a turning about, a return," to the third. On this subject the Hebrews frequently employ the word h b w t "a returning," as corresponding with the third of the preceding terms; and the word µ j n or h m j n which expresses the sense of the second. But though these words are, according to the essence and nature of the thing, synonymous, yet each of them signifies a particular formal conception. The First, repentance, is a conception of the understanding; the Second, penitence, a conception of the affections or passions; and the Third, conversion, is a conception of an action resulting from both the others. The general term, therefore, comprises the understanding, the affections, and an ulterior act resulting from both the preceding. The First signifies a change of mind after any thing has been done; and, after the commission of evil, a change of mind to a better state. The Second expresses grief or sorrow of mind after a deed; and, after an evil deed, "sorrow after a godly sort," and not "the sorrow of the world," although the word is sometimes thus used even in the Scriptures. The Third denotes conversion to some thing, from which aversion had been previously formed. And, in this discussion, it is that conversion which is from evil to good; from sin, Satan and the world, to God. The First comprehends a disapproval of evil and an approval of the opposite good. The Second comprises grief for a past evil, and an affection of desire towards a contrary good. The Third shews an aversion from the evil to which it adhered, and a conversion to the good from which it had been alienated. But these three conceptions, according to the nature of things and the command of God, are so intimately connected with each other, that there cannot be either true and right repentance, penitence, or conversion, unless each of these has the other two united with it, either as preceding it, or as succeeding.

II. According to this distinction of the various conceptions, have been invented different definitions of one and the same thing as to its essence. For instance, "repentance is a change of mind and heart from evil to good, proceeding from godly sorrow." It is also "sorrow after the commission of sin on account of God being offended, and through this sorrow a change of the whole heart from evil to good." And "It is a true conversion of our life to God, proceeding from a sincere and serious fear of God, which consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the quickening of the Spirit." We disapprove of none of these three definitions, because in substance and essence they agree among themselves, and, sufficiently for [the purposes of] true piety, declare the nature of the thing. But a more copious definition may be given, such as the following: "Repentance, penitence, or conversion is an act of the entire man, by which in his understanding he disapproves of sin universally considered, in his affections he hates it, and as perpetrated by himself is sorry for it and in the whole of his life avoids it. By which he also in his understanding approves of righteousness, in affections loves it, and in the whole of his life follows after it. And thus he turns himself away from Satan and the world, and returns unto God and adheres to Him, that God may abide in him, and that he may abide in God."

III. We call repentance "the act of man," that we may distinguish it from Regeneration which is "the act of God." These two have some things in common, are on certain points in affinity; yet, in reality, according to the peculiar nature which each of them possesses, they are distinct; though, according to their subjects, they are not separated. We add that it is "the act of the entire man:" for it is his act with regard to the entire mind or soul, and all its faculties; and with regard to the body as it is united to the soul, and is an organ or instrument subjected to the pleasure and command of the soul. (1 Kings xviii. 37; Rom. xii. 1, 2.) It is an act which concerns the whole life of man as it is rational, and as it was born with an aptitude to tend towards sin and towards God, and to turn aside from either of them. It consists of the understanding, the affections, the senses, and motion, and concurs with all these conjointly, though subordinately, to [the production of] repentance, penitence or conversion. (1.) In this act, the Understanding performs its office both by a general appreciation of its value and by its particular approbation and disapprobation. (2.) The Affections or passions perform theirs, as they are ewiqumhtikov concupiscible, by loving, hating, mourning and rejoicing; and as they are qumoeidhv, irascible, by being angry, zealous, indignant, fearful, and hopeful. (Ephes. 3 & 4.) (3.) The Senses, both internal and external, perform their office by their aversion from unbecoming objects, and by their conversion to those which are suitable and proper. (Rom. vi. 13, 19.) (4.) Lastly, the Motions of the tongue, hands, feet, and of the other members of the body, perform their office by removal from things unlawful and inexpedient, and by their application to those which are lawful and expedient.

IV. The object of repentance is the evil of unrighteousness or sin, (considered both universally, and as committed by the penitent himself,) and the good of righteousness. (Psalm xxxiv. 15; Ezek. xviii. 28.) The evil of unrighteousness is first in order, the good of righteousness is first in dignity. From the former, repentance has its commencement; in the latter, it terminates and rests. The object may be considered in a manner somewhat different; for, since we are commanded to return to God, from whom we had turned away, God is also the object of conversion and repentance, as he is the hater of sin and of evil men, the lover of righteousness and of righteous men, good to those who repent, and their chief good, and, on the contrary, the severe avenger and the certain destruction of those who persevere in sin. (Mal. v. 7; Zech. i. 3; Deut. vi. 5.) To this object, may be directly opposed another personal object, the devil, from whom by repentance we must take our departure. (Ephes. iv. 27; James iv. 7.) To the devil may be added an object which is an accessory to him, and that is, the world, of which he is called "the prince," (John xii. 31; xiv, 30,) both as it contains within it arguments suitable for Satan to employ in seduction, such as riches, honours and pleasures, (Luke iv. 5, 6; 1 John ii. 15, 16,) and as it renders to the devil something that resembles personal service. (Rom. vi. 9, 7.) In both these methods, the world attracts men to itself, and detains them after they are united to it. From it, also, we are commanded to turn away. Nay, man himself may obtain the province of an object opposed to God; and he is commanded to separate himself from himself, that he may live not according to man, but according to God. (Ephes. iv. 22; Col. iii. 9- 17; Rom. vi. 10-23.)

V. The primary efficient cause of repentance is God, and Christ as he is through the Spirit mediator between God and man. (Jer. xxxi. 18; Ezek. xxxvi. 25, 26; Acts v. 31; xvii, 30.) The inly moving cause is the goodness, grace, and philanthropy of God our creator and redeemer, who loves the salvation of his creature, and desires to manifest the riches of his mercy in the salvation of his miserable creature. (Rom. xi. 5.) The outwardly moving cause, through the mode of merit, is the obedience, the death and the intercession of Christ; (Isa. liii. 5; 1 Cor. i. 30, 31; 2 Cor. v. 21;) and, through the mode of moving to mercy, it is the unhappy condition of sinners, whom the devil holds captive in the snares of iniquity, and who will perish by their own demerits according to the condition of the law, and necessarily according to the will of God manifested in the gospel, unless they repent (John iii. 16; Ezek. xvi. 3-63; Luke xiii. 3, 5; Isa. xxxi. 6; Jer. iii, 14; Psalm cxix. 71; in the prophets passim; Rom. vii. 6, 7.)

VI. The proximate, yet less principal cause, is man himself, converted and converting himself by the power and efficacy of the grace of God and the Spirit of Christ. The external cause inciting to repent is the miserable state of the sinners who do not repent, and the felicitous and blessed state of those who repent—whether such state be known from the law of Moses or from that of nature, from the gospel or from personal experience, or from the examples of other persons who have been visited with the most grievous plagues through impenitence, or who, through repentance, have been made partakers of many blessings. (Rom. ii. 5; Acts ii. 37.) The internal and inly moving cause is, not only a consciousness of sin and a sense of misery through fear of the Deity, who has been offended, with a desire to be delivered from both, but it is likewise [an incipient] faith and hope of the gracious mercy and pardon of God.

VII. The instrumental causes which God ordinarily uses for our conversion, and by which we are solicited and led to repentance, are the law and the gospel. Yet the office of each in this matter is quite distinct, so that the more excellent province in it is assigned to the gospel, and the law acts the part of its servant or attendant. For, in the first place, the very command to repent is evangelical; and the promise of pardon, and the peremptory threat of eternal destruction, unless the man repents, which are added to it, belong peculiarly to the gospel. (Matt. iii. 1; Mark i. 4; Luke xxiv. 47.) But the law proves the necessity of repentance, by convincing man of sin and of the anger of the offended Deity, from which conviction arise a certain sorrow and a fear of punishment, which, in its commencement is servile or slavish solely through a regard to the law, but which, in its progress, becomes a filial fear through a view of the gospel. (Rom. iii. 13, 20; vii, 7.) From these, also, proceed, by the direction of an inducement to remove, or repent, a certain external abstinence from evil works, and such a performance of some righteousness as is not hypocritical. (Matt. iii. 8; vii, 17; James ii. 14-26.) But as the law does not proceed beyond "the ministration of death and of the letter," the services of the gospel here again become necessary, which administers the Spirit, by whose illumination, inspiration and gracious and efficacious strengthening, repentance itself, in its essential and integral parts is completed and perfected. Nay the very conviction of sin belongs in some measure to the gospel, since sin itself has been committed against the command both concerning faith and repentance. (Mark xvi. 16; John xvi. 8-15.)

VIII. There are likewise other causes aiding or auxiliary to repentance, some of which are usually employed by God himself, and others of them by those who are penitent. (1.) For God sometimes sends the cross and afflictions, by which, as with goads, he excites and invites to repentance. At other times, he visits them with the contrary blessings, that he may lead them, after having been invited, by goodness and lenity to repentance. (1 Cor. xi. 32; Jer. xxxi. 18; Psalm 80 & 85.) (2.) The causes employed by penitents themselves are watching, fasting, and other corporeal chastisements, as well as prayers, which are of the greatest efficacy in obtaining and performing repentance. The other causes employed by men are likewise serviceable in exciting the ardour of these prayers. (Psalm 119; Rom. ii. 4; v, 3, 4; xii, 11, 12.) It is possible for this relation to exist between these auxiliary and the preceding instrumental causes, (§ 7,) that the auxiliary causes are subservient to the instrumental, since they excite men to a serious and assiduous meditation on the law and the gospel, and by the grace of God obtain yet more and more a right understanding of both.

IX. The form of repentance is the uprightness of the turning away from evil, and of the return to God and to righteousness. It is conformed to the rule of the divine command, and is produced by an assured faith and hope of the divine mercy, and by a sincere intention to turn away and to return. As the penitence of Saul, Ahab and Judas was destitute of this uprightness, it is unworthy to be reckoned under this title. (1 Sam. xv. 24, 25; 1 Kings xxi. 27; Matt. xxvii. 3.) But since the mind of the penitent is conscious to itself of this rectitude, or uprightness, no necessity exists for such a man anxiously and solicitously to examine whether it be so great, either intensively, extensively, or appreciatively, as the rigor of justice might demand.

X. The fruits of repentance, which may also have the relation of ends, are, (1.) On the part of God, the remission of sin according to the condition of the covenant of grace in Christ, and on account of his obedience, and through faith in him. (Luke xxiv. 47; Acts v. 31; Rom. iii. 24) (2.) On our part, the fruits are good works, which are "meet for repentance," (Matt. iii. 8; Luke iii. 8,) and "which God foreordained," that believers and penitents, who are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, should walk in them." (Ephes. ii. 10.) The ultimate end is the glory of God the Redeemer, who is at once just and merciful in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rev. xvi. 9.) It results not only from the gracious and efficacious act of God, who bestows repentance, and converts us to himself; but likewise from the act of the penitents themselves, by which turning themselves away from sins, and returning to God, they "walk in newness of living" all the days of their life. It also results from the very intention of repentance itself.

XI. The parts of repentance, as is abundantly evident from the preceding Theses, according to its two boundaries, (both that from which it commences, and that towards which it proceeds and in which it terminates,) are two, an aversion, or turning away from the Devil and sin, and a conversion or returning to God and righteousness. (Psalm xxxiv. 14; Jer. iv. 1.) They are united together by an indissoluble connection; but the former is preparatory to the latter, while the latter is perfective of the former. The Papists, however, make penitence to consist of three parts; and seem to derive greater pleasure from employing the word penitence about this matter, than in the use of the terms repentance and conversion. Their three parts are, the contrition of the heart, the confession of the mouth, and the satisfaction of the work; about which we make two brief affirmations. (1.) If these be received as parts of the penitence which is necessary before God, then no contrition can be so great, either intensively or appreciatively, as to be in any wise either meritorious or capable of obtaining remission of sins. No confession of the mouth, not even that which is made to God, (provided the confession of the heart only be present,) is necessary to receive remission; much less is the confession which is made to any man, even though he be a priest. And there is no satisfaction, except the obedience of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the justice of God can be satisfied either for sin or for its punishment, even for the very least of either. (Acts iv. 12; Heb. x. 10, 14; 1 Cor. i. 30.) (2.) If these be received as part of the penitence to which, before the church, that man submits who has injured her by scandal, that he may render her satisfaction and may contribute to her edification; then indeed those words, [contrition, confession and satisfaction,] may bear an accommodated sense, and such a distribution of them may be useful to the church.

XII. The contrary to repentance is impenitence, and a pertinacious perseverance in sinning: of which there are two degrees, one the delay of penitence, the other final impenitence unto death. The latter of them has a certain expectation of eternal destruction, even according to the most merciful will of God revealed in Christ and in the Gospel; lest any one should persuade himself, that the devils themselves, and men who have passed their lives in impiety, will at length experience the mercy of God. The former of them, the delay of penitence, is marvelously dangerous, for three reasons: (1.) Because it is in the power and hand of God to make even the delay of a single hour to be a final impenitence, since to Him belongs the dominion and lordship over our life and death. (2.) Because after a habit of sinning has been introduced by daily exercise, a man is rendered anaisqhtov, incapable of feeling, and his conscience becomes "seared with a hot iron." (1 Tim. iv, 2.) (3.) Because, after the gate of grace has by the just judgment of God been closed on account of a malicious continuance in sins, no passage is open for the Spirit, who is necessarily the author of repentance. Therefore let these words always resound in our ears, "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." (Heb. iii. 7, 8; Psalm xcv. 7, 8.) And this exhortation of the Apostle, "Workout your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure," (Phil. ii. 12, 13.) May this be graciously granted to us by God the Father of mercies, in the Son of his love, by the Holy Spirit of both of them. To whom be praise and glory forever. Amen.

COROLLARIES

It is not a correct saying, that "to those who relapse after having been baptized, penitence is a second plank [for their escape] after shipwreck."

Those persons act harshly who, from the example of God not pardoning sins except to him that is penitent, refuse to forgive their brother unless he confesses his fault, and earnestly begs pardon.

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